Dalí first arrived New York on November 14th 1934. Sailing on the steamship Champlain from Le Havre, France, together wife his wife Gala, he wintered every year for forty years at the St Regis hotel on East 55th Street. He had a private suite in the hotel ( Room 1610) In these prosperous pre-war years, Dalí suited New York and New York suited Dalí . Dalí ’s brand of European eccentricity and surrealism set the tone for lifelong lavish affair with the Big Apple. Dalí turned himself into a business model and a unique brand, New York took him on and lapped it up. The bi-annual St Regis Magazine wrote recently, ‘ Here he would happily swish around in his golden cape of dead bees or “accidentally” let loose a large box of flies. With arms stretched wide, cane held high, moustaches pointing to the heavens, nobody knew better how to make the grandest entrance. Soon not just fans but also tourists would congregate around the hotel hoping for a sighting of him on the steps of East 55th Street, growling his war cry, each loud sung syllable: “Da-lí… is… he-re!”
It was reported that whilst on board the steamship, he created his own broadsheet purportedly to announce his arrival in the city. People were eager for flamboyance and celebrity, both of which the Catalan artist bought in abundance. The broadsheet was entitled, rather egocentrically, ‘New York Salutes Me’.
From 1929, Bonwitt Teller on 5th Avenue, was one of the most glamourous and prestigious ladies department stores in the city, much like Selfridges of London is today. In 1929, the store hired their first artist as window display designer: the outlandish Salvador Dalí , and a fascinating history of creative collaborations was born. Surrealist Salvador Dalí , who once declared “I myself am surrealism” designed two themed windows for the store in 1939, one representing day and the other night. The displays weren’t to the liking of the stores management nor the public; they were soon replaced with mannequins. Displeased by this, Dalí jumped into the window display and attempted to pull a bathtub from the floor, it slipped with both artist and bathtub crashing through the plate glass front window!
Interestingly, the store was demolished the 1980s to make way for the construction of the Trump Tower, amid protests from the city dwellers
The pique of his success was heralded by his appearance on the cover of TIME magazine in December 1936. As Time magazine editorial put it, “Surrealism would never have attracted its present attention in the US were it not for a handsome 32-year-old Catalan.”
Dalí was exhibited at the famous Knoedler gallery in the city and his first exhibition was at the Julien Levy gallery in 1934. The Metropolitan Museum of Art gave him his own retrospective in 1941. Later in 1982, Dalí attended the official opening of the Dalí museum in St Petersburg, Florida. The Dalí Museum contains Dalí artworks donated by Eleanor and Reynolds Morse who were avid collectors of Dalí from the 1940s onwards.
New York is full of traces of the artist left during his New York years, even today one can visit the famous 1931 painting ‘ Persistence of Memory’, which hangs in the MoMa.